“A Love for Chocolate”
By Kevin Hopson
“I can’t believe it,”
Rylie said, rummaging through her purse.
She sat next to me on the curb,
the two of us hanging out along the corner of the convenience store, far enough away from
the entrance that we wouldn’t be accused of loitering. Not that it really mattered.
The employees knew us and didn’t mind as long as we bought something. It was our
Saturday morning ritual.
it was my money,” Rylie replied. “Now it’s my food. That bastard is always
stealing my shit.”
had a good idea who Rylie was referring to, but I asked anyway. “Who?”
“That pathetic father of mine,”
she said. “He stole the candy bar in my purse. I was going to eat it this morning.”
Rylie had a love for chocolate,
and apparently her father did as well. She would eat it any time of the day, even for breakfast.
But I knew it was the least of Rylie’s concerns, especially when it came to her father.
“Is everything else okay?” I
let out a breath and pursed her lips.
hasn’t hit you, has he?” I said.
She eventually shook her head.
“No, thank God. He’s laid hands on me before, but he’s never hit me.” Rylie paused.
“I wish I could say the same for my mom.”
last words caused my stomach to churn. The abuse started last year when Rylie’s father
turned to alcohol, the stress of his job pushing him over the edge. They pleaded for him
to get help, but he didn’t want it, and the drinking gradually got worse.
“Thankfully,” Rylie said, “he
hasn’t lost control in a while. But, I swear, if he touches me or my mother again,
I’m calling the cops. I don’t care what my mom says.”
Rylie’s mother feared the
consequences of going to the police, which is the only reason Rylie hadn’t contacted
the authorities. I wanted to say something to my parents. To anyone for that matter. But
Rylie insisted on keeping it quiet. I’d never been one to break a promise, so I was
committed to keeping her secret.
Rylie said, her blue eyes meeting my gaze. “I don’t know what I’d do
love you, too,” I replied, offering her a smile.
I thought back to our elementary
school days, when we first became friends. We were teenagers now, entering our senior year
of high school, and I actually dreaded graduating. Don’t get me wrong. I was excited
about going off to college, but it wouldn’t be the same without Rylie.
Rylie had already decided to
forego college. She planned to get a job, maybe even at the convenience store, so she could
remain with her mom. Leaving her mother alone with an abusive spouse wasn’t an option
how was that fair? Rylie was smart. She deserved to go to college. And as much as I respected
Rylie’s decision, she shouldn’t have to make that sacrifice just because her
father was a worthless drunk.
glanced over my shoulder, eyeing the convenience store, then turned back to Rylie. “I
haven’t eaten this morning. I’m gonna go inside and get something. Do you want
forced a grin. “No, thanks. I’m good.”
I nodded and stood, making my
way inside and immediately perusing the candy aisle. I grasped a chocolate bar, examining
it for a moment. Content with it, I grabbed another and walked over to the hot food counter.
As I approached the glass
display case, a familiar face stared back at me from behind the counter.
“Hi, Grace,” Izzy said. “What
can I get you, honey?”
There was no one in line behind
me, so I decided to go for it. “Sure.”
want cream cheese with it?”
knew me well. I usually got my bagels with cream cheese, but I hesitated this time. I glimpsed
the chocolate bars in my hand and pondered.
“Let’s change it up,” I said,
eyeing her again. “I’ve been on a peanut butter kick lately, so let’s go with
winked an eye at me. “You got it, hon.”
She returned with my bagel a
couple of minutes later, conveniently placing it in a small paper bag for me. I brought
my items to the front counter and swiped a debit card to pay.
I exited the store, Rylie was staring off into space, clearly in thought. I sat beside
her and unfolded one of the napkins I grabbed on the way out, resting the bagel on top
of it and placing it in my lap.
“These are for you,” I said,
extending a hand.
eyes widened. “You’re kidding?”
I shook my head and handed her
the two candy bars.
didn’t have to do that,” Rylie said. “You’re the best.”
I smiled and took a bite of my
bagel as I considered something. “I’m curious.”
swallowed, trying to force the words out of my mouth. “Would you be happier if your
dad was dead?”
lips parted and her mouth hung agape. She inhaled, tucking a strand of blonde hair behind
don’t want him dead,” Rylie finally answered. “I just want him out of
our lives. He used to be a decent guy. But if he refuses to get help, what good is he?
If things stay the way they are, he could go off the deep end at some point.” She
paused. “If push comes to shove, though, I will protect my mom at all costs.”
I nodded, understanding what she
was implying. Some people weren’t killers, but they would go to extremes to protect
the ones they loved.
A chiming noise woke me. It was
Sunday morning, and my alarm clock showed a little past seven o’clock. My cell phone
was on the night stand, the screen lit up as the ringtone continued to pound my ears. I
grabbed the phone and sat up in bed. It was Rylie calling.
This concerned me for a couple
of reasons. First of all, she never called me this early on a weekend. Secondly, after
our talk the prior day, I feared for her and her mother’s safety even more. I considered
letting the call go to voicemail, but I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if it
ended up being an emergency.
I tapped the phone and put it to
my ear. “Rylie?”
heard sniffling on the other end.
“Rylie,” I said again. “Is
she managed to spit out.
“My father’s dead,” Rylie
felt a pulsing in my throat, as if my heart was trying to escape. “What?”
“He’s dead,” she reiterated.
I was at a
loss for words. “How?”
“He had an allergic reaction.”
I knew her father had a peanut
allergy, but he was always very cautious, making sure to read the ingredients. And he wouldn’t
eat something if the manufacturer warned of possible cross-contamination, because the product
could contain traces of nuts and other allergenic foods.
“He went through my purse
again,” Rylie said, her voice unsteady. “The chocolate bar was next to him on
the floor. He has an EpiPen, but it must have happened while we were asleep, so he probably
couldn’t get to it in time.”
put a hand to my mouth. “Oh, my god, Rylie. This is my fault.”
“No, it’s not. I looked at the
wrapper. The chocolate is guaranteed to be peanut-free.”
had made sure of it when I bought the candy bar, just in case her father got his hands
don’t understand,” I said.
hesitated. “I’m so sorry, Rylie.” It was all I could muster.
There was more sobbing on the
other end, and I debated whether to speak or not.
there anything I can do?” I finally asked.
woman’s voice in the background interrupted our conversation. It sounded like Rylie’s
have to go,” Rylie said. “My mom needs me. I’ll call you later.”
I was about to say something,
but Rylie terminated the call. I dropped the phone on my bed and exhaled. It all seemed
then I smiled. It wasn’t an evil smile. It wasn’t even a smile of satisfaction.
It was me feeling a glimmer of hope for Rylie and her mother.
Okay, maybe it was an evil
I smeared a trace of peanut butter on both of the candy wrappers before handing them to
Rylie yesterday morning, I was guilty of killing her father. But no one knew that,
and no one would ever think of accusing me. And if they did, they couldn’t prove
it was intentional.
be honest, I wasn’t certain if Rylie’s father would find the candy, or if he
even had an allergy to peanut butter.
You see, some people are
allergic to peanuts but not peanut butter, and vice-versa. Others are allergic to both.
And, in some cases, the individual doesn’t even have to come into contact with the
peanut product. The smell of it alone can trigger a reaction.
I know Rylie said she didn’t
wish death upon her father, but something needed to be done. She’ll mourn the loss.
As much as a daughter of an abusive father possibly can, at least. But I have no doubt
she’ll be better for it in the long run. Her mother, too.
Kevin Hopson has dabbled in many genres over
the years. His stories have been included in anthologies by Black Hare Press,
Black Ink Fiction, Sweetycat Press, Iron Faerie Publishing, Hiraeth Publishing,
Raven & Drake Publishing, MuseItUp Publishing, Blood Song Books, and Wolfsinger